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Tulsa Searches For Victims Of 1921 Massacre In Unmarked Graves

The city wants closure on a horrific racist attack on a Black community that took place a century ago.

Archaeological team members in Tulsa, Oklahoma have begun excavating a cemetery which is believed to have the remains of victims of the 1921 racist massacre in unmarked graves. 

But so far no bodies have been discovered

In the attack, according to historical records, a racist white mob decimated the Greenwood District, a prosperous all-Black area of the city known colloquially as “Black Wall Street.” The scourge lasted two days from May 31 to June 1, 1921, killing at least 37 people -- according to official figures -- and resulted in millions of dollars in damage. Other estimates range from 50 to 500 dead.

RELATED: Oklahoma Schools Add The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre To Its Curriculum

According to the Tulsa World, records and news articles say 18 Black victims of the terror attack were buried in Oaklawn Cemetery. Written and oral history cites Oaklawn as well as other cemeteries as locations where the remains of victims could be buried in unmarked graves. The location was also identified by subsurface scanning conducted last year.

Tulsa Mayor P.T. Bynum said Monday (July 13) that he was interested in identifying as many potential burial sites as possible, noting that he wants Tulsa to follow the facts “wherever they lead,” the World reported. 

But currently, no remains have been found in Oaklawn. The team dug more than seven feet and have found no signs of any bodies at all, but rather fill soil and other items. State Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck says the fill soil makes scientists believe there still may be bodies could be found at the west end of the site.

“It can become a tedious process, but it’s important that we do this carefully, cautiously and take copious notes along the way," she told the Associated Press

In recent years, the state of Oklahoma has finally acknowledged the history of the attack. In 2001 a state commission released a report outlining the incident.

Bynum said that the history must be revealed because so many, even in Tulsa, know little about what happened. 

“You had generations of people who grew up in this community ... and never heard about it,” Bynum told the AP. “I feel a tremendous responsibility as mayor to try and find these folks. That’s a basic thing that a city government should do for people, and Tulsa hasn’t.”

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